Unity is Golkar’s strength as polls near

The party is set to beat its strife-torn rivals to more than half of the seats

GOLKAR looks set to sweep Indonesia’s first direct regional polls, consolidating its position as the country’s foremost party ahead of the next general election in 2009.

It should grab more than half of the seats of 276 administrations in municipalities, regencies and provinces from June this year.

Those in office after these regional elections will play a critical role at the grassroots level in garnering support for candidates at the next parliamentary and presidential polls.

By doing well in the local elections, Golkar will have its hands on the main levers of power in the country – thus resurrecting itself completely six years after the fall of strongman Suharto.

Golkar already controls Parliament and it has Vice-President Jusuf Kalla, regarded as a powerful hands-on deputy to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, as its chairman.

Three factors will account for Golkar’s supremacy – the relative weakness of its opponents, its strong network across the sprawling archipelago, and funds.

Golkar appears to be far more unified than its adversaries.

The Indonesian Democratic Party – Struggle (PDI-P), the Nation Awakening Party, the United Development Party and the Democrat Party are all hit by internal strife.

With bickering threatening to tear each apart, none of these parties has approached the regional elections with a clear plan of action.

The PDI-P, which is Golkar’s biggest challenge, is vacillating over the level of resources it wants to commit to the polls.

The party of former president Megawati Sukarnoputri is in a dilemma: It wants to be the leading opposition party in Parliament but by winning seats in regional branches, it would have to work with the new administration.

A PDI-P senior highlighting acrimonious debate in the party conceded: ‘If we don’t contest the polls in several areas, we risk losing out in strengthening our party’s position ahead of the 2009 election.

‘But if we have people in these posts, they might end up supporting the central government.’

The problem is complicated not just by conflict within the PDI-P elite but also by sharp differences between its central executive board and grassroots leaders.

Golkar faces no such predicament. If anything, Mr Jusuf – who clinched the leadership last December – seems to be consolidating his grip on Golkar, with regional branches now toeing the line.

But even Golkar is not contesting in all areas. It is concentrating on those regions where it has been traditionally strong. These include West Java, parts of Kalimantan and Sumatra, and eastern Indonesia.

In other key areas such as Central and East Java where its support base is weaker, it is likely to share the spoils by forming a coalition with another party.

In such instances, Golkar has indicated that it would be prepared to accept a deputy’s post.

A party which has secured more than 15 per cent of support in the 2004 legislative elections can field candidates in regional polls to contest for positions in the province, regency and municipality.

This has placed a lot of the smaller parties at a disadvantage. But they have been allowed to forge a coalition with other parties to make up the numbers necessary to put up candidates.

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